Lions mailbag: Receiving riches, Ragnow's rise, Teez's tumble
Allen Park — The sky isn't falling anymore.
After the Detroit Lions thumped the New England Patriots on Sunday night, stopping the early season bleeding, we can hold up on the talk of a top-five draft pick in April and see if the team can put together a regular-season run against a string of average opponents on the docket.
So while you ponder the possibilities, it's time for our weekly mailbag. On to your questions!
3 games into the season and it’s pretty even. Which WR (assuming they all stay healthy) leads the team in Rec, Yards and Receiving TDs?— Jake Cullinan (@JustJake981) September 27, 2018
It's interesting because the usage is, as you note, so evenly split. Honestly, I think two of the answers are easier than the other. With the way Golden Tate is utilized on third downs, hurry-up situations, and when the team is trailing, I anticipate he'll easily lead the team in receptions.
And if the first three weeks are any indication, Marvin Jones is still the top target in the red zone. He's tied with Kenny Golladay, with two touchdowns, but that ignores the four times Stafford misfired on passes to an open Jones in the end zone.
Now yards, that one is tricky. Most of Tate's damage comes on short throws and run after the catch. That doesn't translate to big yardage-per-catch numbers, so he'd really have to pull away from the other two in targets to lead the team here. I anticipate it comes down to Golladay and Jones.
Before the season, I wouldn't have hesitated to give Jones the nod, but the young pup has made such impressive strides in so many aspects of his game. I don't know how much longer Golladay will continue to see the more favorable coverage looks between the two, but as long as he does, he's my new favorite to lead the team in this category.
Do you feel that the organization is happy with Frank Ragnow's play to this point, given both that he struggled in weeks 1 and 2, then had a massive turnaround in week 3?— Aaron Martin (@AaronMartinSFU) September 27, 2018
This is why the organization likes Ragnow. He's improving, coming off his best performance in Week 3, he keeps his head down and mouth shut, which resonates with veterans and coaches alike, and his passion for the game and commitment to get better is genuine.
Of course the Lions would prefer fewer blown assignments, including another bad whiff on a red-zone run against the Patriots, but it's an expected component of the learning curve for the rookie. General manager Bob Quinn recently made it clear he drafts guys with their second year in mind.
Ragnow is ahead of the curve in many facets, especially some of his drive and pull blocks in the run game, while lagging behind in others, such as inside pass-rush and handling stunts. But he's even showing improvement there, so let's give him some more time to iron those wrinkles out.
What are your thoughts on the ability of the OL to perform as well as they did against the Patriots for the remainder of the season? Also, Sriracha or BBQ?— DetroitLionsPodcast (@DetLionsPodcast) September 27, 2018
The Patriots defensive front is subpar, and was missing one of its best players in Trey Flowers, so that has to be taken into account. That said, there was plenty to like about the way Detroit's offensive line executed in the performance, from effective combination blocks, well-executed pulls and above-average success getting to the second level. It's been a while since we could say much positive about the last item on that list.
The interior group shined. More often than not, Glasgow will be reliable, and as noted above, Ragnow will have some rocky snaps, but should continue to improve his consistency as the season goes on. With Lang, who played very well against New England, it's all about durability. I can't guarantee you anything there.
My biggest concern with the blocking actually has little to do with the offensive line and more to do with the tight ends. Through three games, Levine Toilolo is not living up to his reputation as a blocker. Watching the film, it's startling how often he ends up on the ground. And without good play from the tight ends, the pass protection and run blocking won't be able to reach its full potential.
What does Davis need to do better? Leads in tackles, has 2 sacks. Are we seeing him come into his own or do the numbers lie? Can this scheme minimize the weaker parts of his game?— Eric Jankstrom (@The_Jank) September 27, 2018
Where Davis has shined this season is as a pass rusher. He works well running various blitzes, as well as stunts with the defensive front. His coverage has been better, but it's more than fair to say it's still a ways off from where it needs to be.
Where I'd like to see Davis continue to make strides is with his instincts within the scheme. Too often, he's slow to react to the play, and by the time he's processed his reads, he's a fraction of a second behind. This is true with both his pre-snap recognition and post-snap movements. I'd also say he's sucked in a little too far on play-action, but that could very well be schematic.
Finally, when he has a ball carrier in his area, he has to wrap up. The missed tackles continue to be an issue. Pro Football Focus has him missing four through three weeks.
But if we're not seeing quicker play recognition by mid-season, I think there's legitimate reason for concern.
Is it just me or is our o-line getting a insane amount of holding calls?— Corey Weiler (@BabyGnocchiNips) September 27, 2018
It's you. The team has been called for four holds, three last week against the Patriots. That's below league average, and well behind the Broncos, who have been flagged nine times. Four others, including the Packers, have been hit with holding calls eight times.
Justin, did you know Matthew Stafford was raised in Dallas, Texas and attended the same high school as Jerry Jones’ grandson? Stafford is also boys with Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, if you haven’t heard.— John Hackert (@JohnHackLions) September 27, 2018
Next you're going to tell me his first name isn't really Matthew.
Honestly, I'm sorry for you folks stuck watching the broadcasts every time they recycle the Kershaw connection. I know Stafford is a fairly private individual, but there's got to be some other interesting stories they can come up with in pre-production meetings.
Are Hyder and Tabor on their way out? Could Tabor switch to safety?— DetroitMichFan6 (@Fan6Mich) September 27, 2018
I don't anticipate either being cut anytime soon, but neither is making much of an impact right now.
Coach Matt Patricia always has nothing but good things to say about Kerry Hyder, regularly pointing out how impressive Hyder's dedication to his rehab has been. But the production within the scheme hasn't been there, leading to a healthy scratch last week, in favor of recent waiver addition Romeo Okwara.
As for Tabor, he's way down the depth chart, behind even DeShawn Shead last week. It's a troubling sign for the draft pick general manager Bob Quinn said he spent more time personally evaluating than any other in his career. And Tabor isn't like a defensive lineman, who is not a great scheme fit. Patricia isn't reinventing the wheel with any of his zone or man coverage concepts.
As for converting to safety, who knows? Tabor certainly is intelligent enough to make the switch, but he doesn't have the desired speed to play deep and I'm not sure he's big enough to handle the rigors of being in the box on a down-to-down basis. Plus, the Lions are pretty loaded at safety right now with Quandre Diggs seeing so much time there and rookie Tracy Walker coming along nicely.
What’s the most important thing the Lions need to execute on to get out for Dallas with a “W”?— Chris Cooper (@Coop_MTU) September 27, 2018
They have to slow running back Ezekiel Elliott, specifically on stretch zone runs. They have to succeed where they haven't this season, filling those outside lanes and not allowing the star back to snap off a big gain (or four).
If they can keep Elliott in check — we're talking under 100 yards, without any game-altering carries, like the 60-yard touchdowns allowed the first two weeks — the Lions' chances to pull out the road win will go way up.
Blount is averaging 3 ypc and looks slow and unexplosive. When does Johnson begin receiving the bulk of the workload at RB?— Daniel L. Carlson (@DanielCarlson_1) September 27, 2018
Two weeks ago. No, really. Johnson is playing the majority of the snaps and rightfully so. He peaked with 18 touches against New England, and I think the Lions can afford to give him a little more, but not too much.
Johnson has been impressive, but he's still slimmer than many backs, especially through the lower body. Although he'd happily take on the workload if asked, he's not built for 30 touches each week. You do that, you're going to wear him down quickly, negating the explosiveness that makes him special.
Blount plays an important role in the rotation. He's big, physical and can wear down a defense by plowing through the gut and making them stop him. Sure, he's slower than Detroit's other backs, but he's also much heavier.
q: what's the point of keeping Abdullah on the team. And not playing or trading him? Insurance in case somebody goes down?— drewcooke (@realneongreen) September 27, 2018
You've hit the nail on the head. If Kerryon Johnson or Theo Riddick went down, Ameer Abdullah is capable of stepping in and the Lions would lose almost nothing.
More: Lions' Ameer Abdullah doesn't let demotion get him down
I still believe the Lions would move Abdullah if the right offer was made. Otherwise, the talent is too good to let go for nothing and he's probably a valuable asset on the practice field, giving the defense far better looks than some undrafted rookie on the practice squad.
If the Lions win Sunday and get to 2-2 will you update your season win loss prediction or will it stay the same?— Nothing 2 C Kerryon (@x_No_Clue_x) September 27, 2018
Season predictions are dumb. How many talented players have been lost to season-ending injuries around the league? There's no way to predict that.
I had the Lions at 2-2 through four games on the way to 7-9. No reason to change that since many of the same flaws exist, especially on defense. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised by 10-6 or 6-10. There are so many variable still up in the air.
What are your thoughts on Reeves-Maybin? I think PFF had him rated 3rd highest on the defense. He seems to be playing well, but what's his function at this junction?— Eric Easterday (@EasterdayEric) September 27, 2018
He's a situational linebacker who is pretty good in coverage, especially when coming forward to pick up the back in the flat or make a play on a receiver taking a quick out. His size and strength are still problematic against the run, and opponents, including the Patriots, like to attack the weakside of Detroit's formation when he's on the field because of his struggles shedding second-level blocks.
@Justin_Rogers @kmeinke On the Lions website the practice pictures from yesterday show everyone in either white, blue or red (QB) jerseys...everyone except Ameer who is in all black. Any idea what that is about?— Brandin Klein (@brandin_klein) September 27, 2018
That was a new thing on Wednesday and it wasn't just Abdullah. There were five or six guys in those black jerseys. Educated guess, based on the playing time of those players, is it's just making it easier to visualize scout team looks.
Does Prater usually use smelling salts before he kicks? I saw him do it before one of his kicks on Sunday.— poopdongokon suh (@gameofdabs) September 27, 2018